Diet and Physical Therapy
Written by: Kimberly Benson PT, DPT, NCS
VPTA's Communications Committee-Content Development Manager.
How important is diet, when it comes to our patients? Is it someone else’s role and responsibility to discuss healthy eating habits with the patients we see? I would say, our patient's dietary habits and nutritional awareness directly impacts what we are able to do as a physical therapist.
Addressing nutrition is within the professional scope of practice for a physical therapist. The APTA has a stance “APTA's position is that it is "the role of the physical therapist to screen for and provide information on diet and nutritional issues to patients, clients, and the community within the scope of physical therapist practice." (House of Delegates P06-15-22-17)”
Working with a licensed Dietitian and/or nutritionist can make an impact on our patient's life. There are some great resources available to start a basic discussion with our patients on the importance of diet and nutrition. The US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has a guide for dietary recommendations. In addition, the APTA has a great article on diet and nutrition which can be found on their website.
Remember that, what we put into our body impacts many aspects of healing, health, and wellbeing. Some key things to consider are….
1. Weight management through diet with an injury. Educating and informing our patient about the impact food has on their ability to manage weight and heal with a change in activity level could be beneficial. Remind patient it is about what you put into your body that matters. Studies have reported the need for increased protein to aid in healing.1
2. Inflammatory properties of fatty acids. During healing our body goes through a natural inflammatory phase. Diet can assist with maintaining healthy levels of inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in foods like fish, certain nuts, and avocados, play an important role in blood flow and the immune response. 2,3 Omega-6 fatty acids, which can be found in processed, fried and vegetable oils may increase the inflammatory process. Maintaining a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids can improve healing.4
3. Effect of diet on whole health. Reminding the patient that what we eat and when we eat foods have effects on blood sugar, metabolism, and blood pressure. Sometimes reviewing simple healthy eating tips can inform the patient on the impact of their food choices. 3
Next time you see your patient, I challenge you to consider investigating their diet and nutrition habits and see if that can make a difference.
1. Wall BT, Morton JP, van Loon LJC. Strategies to maintain skeletal muscle mass in the injured athlete: Nutritional considerations and exercise mimetics. European Journal of Sport Science. 2015;15(1):53-62. doi:10.1080/17461391.2014.936326
2. Bilku DK, Hall TC, Al-Leswas D, Dennison AR. Can enhanced recovery programmes be further improved by the addition of omega three fatty acids? Ir J Med Sci. 2012;181(4):453-457. doi:10.1007/s11845-012-0813-x
3. Dean E. Physical therapy in the 21st century (Part II): Evidence-based practice within the context of evidence-informed practice. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 2009;25(5-6):354-368. doi:10.1080/09593980902813416
4. Mercer L. The Role of Nutrition in Physical Therapy. Accessed on July 1, 2019 https://covalentcareers.com/resources/the-role-of-nutrition-in-physical-therapy/